Porsche Cayman S India review, test drive
5th Sep 2013 5:51 pm
The Porsche Cayman S is touted to be the best sportscar in the world. But how does it fare on Indian roads? Time to find out.
The plan was simple. Take the bullet-train-quick expressway down to Pune, jink right on reaching the city and then carry on via the picturesque Wai ghat to Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar. The route back down to Mumbai would be even better – via the lonely Poladpur ghat that snakes its way down the back of the mountain range in a tight set of rollercoaster-like dips and loops. And from Mahad, on to Mumbai. We would encounter all sorts of roads en route; speedbreakers and broken sections of road on the way out of Mumbai, flat-out sections on the expressway and every sort of corner, switchback and hairpin over the rest.
Time for a pre-flight check/walk-around while the photographers take some detail shots of the car. Whereas the earlier Cayman looked a bit awkward, this car looks positively gorgeous. The nose, roof and tail are in perfect sync and I can’t help but be reminded of a whole host of Porsche racing cars from the 1960s, like the 906 and 908. It has the same feline, crouched look with the protruding shoulders. And bold details like the fenders and cutouts in the chin work really well too. Large 20-inch wheels also mean this example looks perfectly planted. The large purposeful-looking vents and splitters also tell you how serious Porsche is about good aero performance. It even has a hidden pop-up spoiler, but that does make the rear look a bit ungainly.
The cabin, as ever, is evolutionary and typically Porsche. The new car’s insides are very similar to the new Boxster and the Cayman now comes with the raised centre console, which both looks good and is very functional. Apart from the plastic buttons, which are quite ordinary, the build quality of the cabin is exceptional, right up there with the best Audis and Mercs. A band of aluminium segregates the lower and upper halves of the dash and the vents have detailing that remind you of Porsche’s ‘air-cooled’ engine legacy. But the cabin is short on essential stowage. There’s no place for you to keep your cell phone, for example, the air con controls are small and fiddly to use and the pop-out cup holders are flimsy and only useful for smaller bottles. The touchscreen, however, works well and phones pair quite easily. Slide down in the driver’s seat and you also realise that this car is clearly roomier than the one it replaces.
The new Cayman is built on a much longer wheelbase, and the wider track at both front and rear results in more space inside the cabin. Porsche now shares a lot of bits among all its sportscars and that means this car has many common parts with the 911. The Cayman also uses the same high-strength steel-aluminium combination in its construction – this, and a better design, helps make it a full 40 percent stiffer; and that’s despite the much longer wheelbase. Sure there is more room, but the Cayman still feels compact. You are very aware that you’re sitting just ahead of the mid-mounted flat-six engine, you can almost sense the presence of the four massive tyres packed in tight around you, and once on the move the car also clearly tells you where its centre of mass is located. We were expecting a bone-jarring ride, but we soon discover that despite the ultra-low 35-profile tyres, ride is surprisingly good. Good for a low-profile tyre, that is; you do feel the bumps and lumpy roads tend to unsettle the car, but the Porsche doesn’t crash through bumps like you would expect it to. What does cause us to slow right down are big speedbreakers, which have to be attacked diagonally.While there’s little scope to experience the handling of the new Cayman on the way out of the city, we do encounter large enough gaps in traffic where we can enjoy a quick blast.
Now I know the Cayman is meant to be more about the way it drives than raw performance, but Porsche’s new-generation engines are so explosive towards the top end, 321bhp here feels more like 375. This is because Porsche’s new downsized engines have been made especially high-revving to allow them to attain higher power outputs. I think they’re among Porsche’s best engines ever. Maximum power comes in at 7400rpm, the PDK flick shifts you to the next gear just before 8000rpm and this results in a serious whack in the back. The crazy short stroke and big bore pistons sure help, as does the variable valve timing and lift. What enhances the experience tenfold is that every run to the top of the rev band is accompanied by a crisp deep-chested snarl from the exhaust.We revel in the brutal way the Cayman shifts from first to second in Sport Plus, snapping the rear a bit sideways when the ESP is off; and the quick steering makes it such a dolly to catch. It’s just so playful.
As the road opens up, we get an opportunity to exercise the engine a bit more in the higher gears – again, we’re pleasantly surprised. Performance is seriously good. So good, in fact, that the Cayman is only 0.3 seconds slower than the 911 Carrera 4S to 100kph. And the difference at 150kph isn’t more than a second either. Using Porsche’s launch control, we cover 0-100kph in just 5.3 seconds, with 200kph reached in 18.9 seconds.It’s only much later, on the rollercoaster down to Poladpur, that I get to really exploit the best bit of this car – its handling. Lumpy and wet tarmac cause me to initially take things easy on the twisty bits, but the Cayman is so inherently friendly and inviting, I soon get past using just the midrange before executing a shift-up. More power and performance normally corrupt handling, at least to some extent. But the effortless manner in which this thoroughbred chassis takes up the slack just goes to show the rarified altitude at which the Cayman is operating.
But to get to the real magic, I need to push harder. As if on cue, the condition of the tarmac improves and so does my pace. Much has been written about Porsche’s new electric steering, and it is true. It does feel a bit numb around the centre in comparison to the old car. But that really doesn’t matter all that much, and I’ll tell you why. Sure, you miss some of the confidence that comes from a better steering and a bit of clarity is missing too, but the rest of the Cayman works so well from apex to apex, you just tend to settle down and dig into the feast. As you go harder and start to transfer more weight from one side of the car to the other, you soon come to realise that the car’s cornering balance is near perfect. Going quicker doesn’t upset the composure of the car and I find that the more you use the throttle, the easier it is to neutralise that hint of understeer lurking in the chassis. What thrills you totally also is the fantastic level of precision with which this car operates; it just feels super special. Go harder and there’s a gradual transition from grip to slip as the riveted-to-the-road rear begins to move smoothly in a predictable manner, pointing the Cayman more naturally into corners. On offer, as long as you don’t go overboard, is a flattering layer of controllability which is simply thrilling. The new Cayman, however, isn’t as easy to get sliding around as the earlier car. The longer wheelbase and generally higher levels of grip mean you need to be going much quicker to get the same thrills. But then, the sense of accomplishment once you do is much higher.
The new Cayman S easily lives up to its billing as arguably the best sportscar in the world. For a start, it has a degree of adjustability and seamless confidence-inspiring handling that elevates it above the ordinary. Its raw straight-line performance is now right up there with the quickest 911s, its interiors are better built than a majority of luxury cars and it is even refined and docile enough to be used on an everyday basis. Also, importantly, Porsche now has its own service network in India, which is sure to give more confidence to owners here. At Rs 93.99 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), it’s not cheap and you could easily add another 20 lakhs in features, options and taxes. But if you are looking for automotive perfection in a sportscar, the Cayman is in a class of one.